English-language learners (ELLs) are a subset of students in America unable to communicate fluently in English. They often require specialized or modified instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses. These students have become a greater portion of the student body in the U.S, especially at lower grade levels. In 2014–15, a greater percentage of public school students in lower grades than in upper grades were ELL students. 16.7 percent of kindergarteners were ELL students, compared to 7.8 percent of 6th-graders and 6.5 percent of 8th-graders. With greater demand for effective English language instruction, technological and software based solutions are increasingly being embraced to meet their specific needs.
Academic studies have shown promising potential impact of tech centered English language instruction. In a 2013 study from Northwest Missouri State University, two groups of local ELL students were tested for reading comprehension. One group was taught by conventional, non-technological means while the other was taught through an ELL technology program called Imagine Learning. The group that used an interactive Technology of Imagine Learning classroom proved to make greater gains in reading level than the group that did not have any extra technology assistance. A 2010 study from the Corporation for Public School Education likewise showed a positive impact that interactive whiteboard technology had on ELL student’s ability to learn English. The use of the whiteboard also helped realize the Digital Learning Classroom’s goal of performance parity in mathematics between ELL students and regular students in traditional classrooms.
One of the most powerful ways technology can assist ELL students is in helping them gain greater confidence with speaking. The software program Voicethread has already found its way into ELL k-12 classrooms across America. Voicethread enables teachers to have students record their voices in online assignments and for voicelab activities to be held. Moreover, teachers can leave comments from any place where Internet is available and at any time.
Many educational software apps have adopted a digital storytelling model to get ELL students acquainted with speaking English. Software based around this concept includes the educational platforms Tell About This, Kid in Story Book Maker, and Explain Everything. With digital storytelling tools, students can spend time formulating their stories, self-reflect and self-assess, collaborate with peers of differing skill levels, and in the end, feel confident in their abilities to speak English. With the United States’ significant population of undocumented immigrants, implementing tech into English language instruction can help bridge the achievement divide in English ability as well as in other subjects in which ELL students fail to meet base standards.